A memoir-type story about my own experience as a freelance journalist covering the abortive communist coup attempt in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept 30, 1965.
Among those arrested were Dr. Subandrio, the foreign minister, and Air Marshal Omar Dhani, commander of the Air Force. Both were later tried by a special military tribunal and sentenced to death, but a few years later the sentence for each one of them was commuted to a life imprisonment. In 1969 I was given special permission by the military to bring a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News crew to film Subandrio in Cimahi jail, just outside Bandung, capital of West Java, about 100 miles southeast of Jakarta. No interview was allowed but I managed to talk briefly with the disgraced ex-foreign minister. It was enough for CBC correspondent Bill Cunningham to create a story that I was told was well received by Canadian TV viewers. I took a lot of photos of Subandrio outside his cell, in the garden he tended behind the cell and while doing a yoga exercise.
A new cabinet was formed by Soekarno apparently involving a lot of lobbying, persuasion or outright pressure from the military and pro-military politicians. No less than five deputy prime ministers were appointed to supervise ministers handling portfolios related to the respective areas of responsibility of each one of them. General Suharto was deputy prime minister for defense and security. Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, the ruler of Yogyakarta, Central Java, popularly referred to as just “the Sultan”, was in charge of economy and finance. Adam Malik, a former journalist whom Soekarno appointed as ambassador in Moscow and later trade minister, handled political affairs. Malik doubled up as foreign minister.
There were two other deputy prime ministers – Dr. Ruslan Abdulgani and Dr. J. Leimena, who were seen as Soekarno’s supporters. But Soeharto, Adam Malik and the Sultan were the trio responsible for getting Indonesia out of the economic mess the country was in and putting it back on the international map. Soekarno pulled Indonesia out of the United Nations in early 1965 during a speech in a mass rally. The rally was organized to call for support from the masses for his Ganyang Nekolim or Crush Neocolonialism policy. Soekarno’s fiercely anti-US message was unleashed in his speech during the rally, “America, go to hell with your aid.” Dr. Abdulgani became Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN after the country had been readmitted into the world body.
The president held his weekly meetings with the five deputy prime ministers and his monthly meetings with the entire cabinet in the Bogor Palace where he was staying. The meetings were always covered by a large number of newsmen, local and foreign. Soekarno was a great leader, acknowledged by the world media who rated him on par with India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Marshal Josip Broz Tito and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. These leaders initially forged the Afro-Asian political solidarity which later on evolved into the Non-Bloc Movement. Like Nasser, Sukarno was also an orator. More than an orator, he was also a great actor who could instantly adlib an interesting scene to attract public attention.
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